Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I came across a study of AA the other day the got me to thinking. It addressed the autonomy of each group and the problems that this autonomy can cause. Basically, any group of people can get together and call themselves an AA group. No license is required.
So I could gather a bunch of friends together who think like me - control freaks who believe in "my way or the highway"; who think that if you don't believe in God (our God) you're never gonna get sober and will surely burn in hell; who belittle the newcomer as someone who's a worthless piece of shit 'cause they don't know nothin'. Oh, and the 12 steps aren't suggestions - they're the only way to get sober. These friends carry around the Big Book (large print, paper back edition of course 'cause that's the biggest one) and are always thumbing through it during the meetings. Their idea of a "discussion" is to quote from the Bib Book. They've never had an original thought in their lives. Get the Idea?
So we start this AA group, register with GSO and inter-group, and get our meeting on the area schedule. And in walks this poor drunk, desperate for help, not knowing where to turn. He's ignored before, during, and after the meeting. How long do you think this poor guy is going to stick around? What's his impression of AA going to be based on this singular experience? I'll give you odds that he'll never attend another meeting. He'll also be the first in line to believe AA is a religious cult run by a bunch of fanatics. He's convinced he's right and he is. His perceptions are based on his experience and are his reality.
Sound farfetched? It's not. This shit is going on every day. We've all been to meetings that in some way resemble the one I described. Yeah, these meetings are far outnumbered by groups of people who follow the program as it was intended to be followed . But nonetheless, one bunch of assholes can do a lot of damage, not just to the reputation of AA but more importantly to the newcomers who reach out to us and run into this shit. AA is losing it's attraction because these people are accurately telling others about their experience with the program. It's the damage these morons who call themselves AA do to the newcomer that can keep me awake at night. When I read some attacks or criticisms of AA I can understand where these people are coming from. They were never exposed to AA, they were exposed to a bunch of idiots who are an anathema to everything we represent.
Now getting back to the study. It questioned the wisdom of the tradition of autonomy based on just the type of thing I outlined. It suggested that AA may want to revisit it's insistence on autonomy and consider instead a means of standardization, preventing groups like this from calling themselves AA. Groups would still be "autonomous" but would be required to adhere to certain standards if they wished to be considered an AA group.
So. This might solve the problem of the poor drunk who walked in the doors of hell looking for sobriety. Or would it? Are required standards the answer to the problem? Yeah, we have the 12 Traditions but nothing requires an AA group to abide by them. You're an AA group if you call yourself one just as you're a member if you say you are.
So here's my question. Is the solution to the problem I described one of enforced standardization as the study suggests? Or would this open Pandora's Box and be the first step down that slippery slope to centralized authority? And if standardization isn't the answer, what is? Sometimes we only get one shot at showing a newcomer what AA is all about. Think how many times we miss that opportunity because of these "AA groups"; how many lives are ruined because some people never get to see what we're really all about. I accept that AA isn't for everyone but, damn it, we could at least make sure they understand the program before they decide if it'll work for them.